Motorway madness

Now here’s a question for you – if local councils in England spend £885 million a year cleaning streets and minor roads (i.e. excluding motorways and trunk roads), how much would you estimate that it costs the Highways Agency to clean up the motorways and trunk roads ?

Let’s put things into slightly sharper focus first. The £885 million is spent by around 330 local authorities, so that averages out at about £2.7 million per local authority a year to clean streets and minor roads. So, to pose my question in a different way – the equivalent of how many local councils’ street cleaning costs does cleaning up England’s motorways and trunk roads constitute ?

And there’s another factor to consider before you guess the cost – the fact that cleaning the verges of motorways and trunk roads is a completely different challenge from cleaning streets – you need to take considerable safety precautions, sometimes even involving coning off the inside (or outside) lane and almost always necessitating the presence of a safety vehicle edging along between the men doing the litter-picking and the traffic coming up behind them. That doesn’t come cheap.

Well, let me put you out of your suspense ! The annual figure quoted earlier this month by Mike Penning (Transport Minister) was £20 million – £10 million to clear motorway verges of litter and £10 million to clear trunk roads. So that is but 2.25% of the total that councils spend annually on street cleaning and equivalent to the average spend of 7-8 local councils.

What do you think about all this ? Well, I think that something is wrong and out of kilter here. Sure, we mustn’t forget that it’s members of the general public who are chucking the rubbish out of their cars when they drive up and down motorways and trunk roads. But that is no excuse for not making a good attempt to keep these places clean.

My over-riding feeling when I read the figures announced by Mr Penning was : “WHAT ? Only £20 million ??”. And so my conclusion is that, given the very public nature of our motorways and trunk roads and the hugely negative impact that their littered verges cause, somehow we ought to reallocate some of the budget that is currently given to local councils and pass it over to the Highways Agency to use on motorways and trunk roads. Or, perhaps a more practical suggestion, extend local councils’ responsibilities to include cleaning the motorways and trunk roads that run through their area. That way, there would be no lack of clarity in the public’s mind over whose responsibility it is to clean up a particular stretch of road (as there so frequently is now) and I feel sure that we would end up with a cleaner motorway and trunk road system at the end of it all.

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